While technology has come to the rescue of higher education institutions and their students after COVID-19 disrupted contact learning at the beginning of 2020, the importance of lecturers connecting with students, even through technology, cannot be overstated, said Dr Martha Bradley, a lecturer at the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Department of Public Law in the Faculty of Law, during the second lecture in the UP Law’s monthly Teaching and Learning Lecture Series aimed at reflecting on teaching and learning during COVID-19 using technological innovations and mapping a way forward post pandemic. The event was held on 11 August 2021.
“Physical teaching and learning changed overnight as a result of COVID-19. The University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Law was prompted by these changes to convert from contact lecturing to remote teaching and from hybrid teaching to emergency remote teaching or fully online,” said Dr Bradley.
“The demand is continuously to rethink and re-evaluate the manner in which we learn and teach in order to satisfy this demand. This includes demonstrating responsiveness to entering new methodologies and approaches, specifically in international law,” she said. “We cannot use technology in isolation; we have to have a consolidation phase where we actually speak and engage with our students,” said Dr Bradley, noting that they had observed that students prefer lectures to be shorter. “For me, the takeaway would be to have achieved what we have done so far.”
In his opening statement, Professor Charles Maimela, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Law, said Pretoria University Law Publisher (PULP) – an open-access publisher based at UP’s Centre for Human Rights – had accepted the faculty’s proposal that PULP documents all online law lectures and engagement experiences shared on this platform in book form as a record of what teaching methods being used during COVID-19 worked or did not and what lessons to take from the experience. “A call for papers will be made to the faculty and we look forward to receiving more chapters from colleagues for them to participate in this venture,” said Prof Maimela.
Professor Omphemetsi Sibanda, Executive Dean, Faculty of Management and Law, University of Limpopo, said technology is a major influence on education, be it in a positive or negative way. He highlighted a survey that was conducted globally by Accesslex Institute and Gallup between February and March 2021 regarding online teaching and learning and how it impacts students. The survey was done on 1 739 law students. “Most first-year students indicated that the quality of education has improved to excellent and 43% of senior students indicated that it was not good and disrupted their normal teaching and learning,” said Prof Sibanda.
“I think all law managers, faculties and teachers have access to the International Association of Law Schools report about transitioning to online legal education the student voice, which featured South African and African students as respondents to the survey. There were important recommendations made in that report, including that faculties and universities must conduct further investigations and substantiations regarding developing mechanisms for continuing study assessment of the use of the online technologies and effectiveness in educating our law students; another one was to develop a strategy which leverages off existing technological infrastructure at our universities and resources to be scalable for the transitioning.
“We cannot go back to how we were before COVID-19,” he said.
Prof Sibanda said South Africa, not just law schools, is lagging behind as only now the country realising the importance of using technology in education. All future discussions around education cannot exclude references to technology and innovation, including artificial intelligence and robotics, he said. “The higher education sector fortunately is intertwined with the development of new technologies,” he said, adding that artificial intelligence can be used in law and the teaching of law. “This essentially involves the application of a machine to learn and to achieve the same outcomes of what law is.”
Dr Rashri Baboolal-Frank, a senior lecturer in the Department of Procedural Law, Faculty of Law (UP), said: “The pandemic forced us to quickly move to online teaching such voice clips, podcasts, webinars etc. The assessments were conducted online – from assignments to multiple choice questions – which forced lecturers to think differently about the way assessments were presented in order to avoid those easy answers.”
Dr Baboolal-Frank acknowledged that while helpful, technology has also brought up new challenges when it comes to assessments.
“As wonderful as technology is, it is also an enabler, especially on online assessments, for students to cheat in creative ways. Far more assessments completed during emergency remote learning have become part-practice as innovative methods have been adopted for learning and assessment purposes in order to preserve the integrity of the degree through online modes of learning,” she said.
But the challenge that has been more difficult to overcome, said Dr Baboolal-Frank, is finding ways to replicate the benefits of contact learning.
“Over the years, students have become accustomed to traditional learning and physical contact. I found that Google Meet and virtual classrooms do not replace the gap that holistically physical contact gap sessions do in relation to a real kind of thinking.”
This second lecture in the Faculty of Law’s monthly Teaching and Learning Lecture Series was held on 11 August 2021.
Lecture 1: UP Law lecture reflects on teaching and learning using technological innovations during and post-COVID-19